Choosing Choir Music for Children

Watching children’s faces as choral repertoire becomes part of them is one of the great joys in a conductor’s life. This integration of musical meaning and human understanding can only occur if we provide participants with quality repertoire that is developmentally appropriate. The effort put forth in repertoire selection is paid back in full as we share with our choirs and audiences the joy of great music making.”– MENC member Angela Broeker

Broeker approaches the task of choosing choir music for children by considering six different areas. This week (PART I) we’ll highlight Text and Singability.  

(Parts II and III follow in subsequent weeks.)

TEXT

Use texts rich in emotional meaning or historic and cultural insights. This can help children widen their understanding of others and of themselves. “Work under the assumption that children are intelligent, capable, playful human beings full of feeling and emotion (“feelingful”), and able to assimilate many kinds of texts with a variety of subjects and themes,” Broeker says.

Use texts in foreign languages. Children can better understand our global culture, while mastering new vowel and consonant sounds, and widening their palette of vocal timbre.
Be aware of the percentage of foreign text in relation to your choir’s experience. Choose a text with a smaller amount of foreign text to keep it accessible, especially for beginners.

SINGABILITY

Many children enter their first choir rehearsal with little or no vocal training; their vocal development is in your hands.

Repertoire itself can be an opportunity to develop both the upper and lower registers of the young voice, in addition to traditional vocal warm up exercises. Find pieces that balance the lower register and the higher registers. If young singers are performing 2 -or 3-part music, choristers should alternate between alto and soprano lines on various songs.

Less-experienced students will have greater success on high-pitched sections if they are sung on open vowels, especially ah and oh.

Young singers find it easier to sing melodies with diatonic melodies and predictable patterns.

Broeker believes that perhaps the single most important factor in determining positive choral experiences for children is repertoire selection. “Each concert’s pieces contain the potential for vocal development, increased conceptual understanding in music, and insights into the music-making experiences of other cultures and historical periods. Choral singing can start the beginning of a lifetime curiosity and desire to participate in the choral music experience.”

Angela Broeker, Associate Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities, Women’s Choir, Chamber Singers, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota; used with permission of the author; from MENC’s Spotlight on Teaching Chorus

–Sue Rarus, April 29, 2008, © National Association for Music Education